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Wilderness Adventures - September Week 3

This is about a remote area in west central British Columbia, Canada called the West Chilcotin. Surrounded by numerous glacial mountain ranges, alpine lakes teeming with wild Rainbow Trout, and full of wildlife. Living here goes from no running water or electricity to spacious log homes with all the conveniences and without the smog!
If you would like to see pictures of wildlife, mountains, lakes, exciting snowmobiling, events and more, and read stories like 'Lake Monsters' - just go into Archives on the lower left side of this page. The stories on this page are ordered by date with the latest story at the top. Therefore, you must start at the bottom and work up to read a series of articles in order.
16/09/2005 12:35 PM

Bear Attacks

There seems to be a significant increase in both grizzly and black bear attacks this fall. Not long ago a man in his sixties was attacked by a black bear near Winnipeg, Manitoba while picking plums. Residents there said there had been a number of bears around and there was a serious shortage of food for them. Competition for food may have provoked the attack. On the same weekend, an experienced hiker, a woman, was killed in Banff National Park by a grizzly and resulted in trail closures in the area for some time. A woman and her father from Escondido, California were attacked in Glacier National Park by a grizzly sow with cubs. In an attempt to escape the bear, both tumbled over a small cliff and sustained injuries both from the bear and the fall. The woman has now been released from hospital and her father is listed in stable condition. Pictures shown on the news showed that the man had sustained serious injuries that included scalping by the bear. The same happened this week to a boy that ran into a bear near Burns Lake northwest of Prince George while walking with a friend and his dog. It was a surprise close range encounter and the boy apparently was picked up by his head and thrown by the bear. He sustained scalp injuries and a broken leg while his friend ran for help. The boy's father said they commonly see bears around their ranch but this is the first time an incident in meeting a bear has been this serious. Another very serious attack occurred just recently in the States where the man received grievous injury to his head and bite marks on his body. What has caused such an unusual number of attacks by both grizzlies and black bears this fall? Bears rely heavily on plentiful and calorie rich feed to build up fat reserves for winter hibernation. A bear with insufficient reserves will die or be forced to exit their den in mid winter or early spring in search of food that will be hard to find that time of year. An interruption in their hibernation cycle could also cause them to die. The voracious hunt for food in the fall is a deep seated instinct and competition for food sources, even with humans, can result in attack on anything perceived to be a competitor. Unusual weather cycles or drought can seriously deplete normally bountiful food sources. The other cause can be a sow protecting her cubs, especially first year cubs. These two types, the rogue bear and the sow are joined by a third type. This is a predator bear. One that is unable to eat or find food because of aged teeth, degraded eyesight or an injury impairing its ability to search out the food it needs or one that has simply found humans easy targets. I will cover these types, how to spot them and suggested ways to defend yourself against them in tomorrow's article.
17/09/2005 10:20 AM

Surviving Bears

Avoidance and survival of attack by the three types of bear. As discussed yesterday, it's the opinion of many of those that study bears, that attacks on humans are led by three different types of bear regardless whether they are grizzly or black bear. And as such, we should all use different modes of protecting ourselves for maximum survival in case of an attack.
Although I don't have figures, I think the majority of attacks on humans are by sows with cubs either where the person got between a bear and her cubs unintentionally or came on them suddenly and surprised the sow. A sow is always ready to go on the offensive to protect her cubs because it is not uncommon for a boar or male bear to kill them. She must be strong, mean, fast and take the offensive quickly in order to take her opponent; hence the lightning quick attack that occurs on humans more often than not. Authorities on the subject say this is one of those occasions where you should back up as quickly as possible away from the cubs, run in the other direction as quickly as possible, especially if the cubs are quite young, or in the worst case scenario, roll up in a ball, protect your extremities and head and be as non threatening as possible when attacked. It is thought that a mother bear has only one motive in attacking a human when she has young cubs and that is to drive the threat away. As soon as that is accomplished, she will take them and leave. The rare exception to this rule, and it is very rare, has been when a sow chooses to teach full-grown cubs how to hunt domestic animals or humans. However, now you are talking about a predator bear that just happens to be a mom as well and since there is more than one animal involved, the most dangerous threat of all.
Even a small single black bear sow such as the one in the picture on the right with her tiny cub can be deadly. I took a picture of her in Tweedsmuir Park along Highway 20 two weeks ago where she and her cub were feeding on berries along the road. She crossed the road in front of us after tiring of the berry supply on one side and proceeded to chow down on the other with no fear of us at all. She must have been bred quite young because although she was in good shape, she wasn't much bigger than a large dog. Yet she could kill a human in a flash! What could set her off and make her so dangerous?
No fear of humans.
She's going into winter so she's desperate to get as much high calorie food into her as possible in order to survive hibernation.
She has a first year cub with her.
Chances are that most of the time she would just run if she felt threatened, but there is no way I would want to be caught between her and her cub, even as small as she is. I definitely would not want to be caught between that grizzly sow and her two cubs in the picture to your right.The best bet when dealing with the possibility of running into a sow and cubs is to make lots of noise warning her that you are in the area by either whistling, singing or wearing a bell on your shoes. If you can't make noise, such as when you are hunting, stay very aware of your surroundings making sure to look around to the sides, look ahead and up trees for any possibility of cubs. Caution and constant awareness is always recommended in bear country, even if that happens to be in your own pasture or back yard, and it never hurts to carry a can of bear spray in the woods or firecrackers near salmon rivers. I've run out of time and room so I'll have to continue on the other types of attack bear in future articles.

18/09/2005 10:46 AM

Rogue Bear

A second type of bear whether black or grizzly is the rogue bear and often its biggest fault is that it is no longer afraid of humans. That's where the trouble starts. A bear can become a rogue simply by being a dump bear. Food is easily accessed in a garbage dump and bears become accustomed to human smells and quite often see humans come dump off garbage, possibly even while they are down in the pit. (I've had that happen to me a few times) Bears for years were fed illegally by visitors to the nation's parks and bears are fed on a regular basis, if unintentionally, whenever we fill up our bird feeders with seed or set out our garbage. In drought years when wild berries are fewer or non existent, bears are often forced to move in on domestic fruit trees, berry bushes or vegetable gardens that get regular watering in our yards. The animals become accustomed to the smell of humans, their pets and all the attendant sounds that accompany us such as barking dogs, vehicle sound, car horns, lawnmowers, and voices. A bear not frightened of humans or their pets becomes a dangerous bear. The most dangerous aspect is coming on the bear by surprise in a place you least expect it. You don't generally expect to have to be cautious in your back yard, the town dump or on your back porch where you have your box of peaches to be canned so you generally go charging into one of those areas, head down and not thinking of any danger at all. A wild bear, on the other hand, would be doing back flips to get out of there under those circumstances if he was there to begin with. But a bear that has become accustomed to humans is going to protect what he considers his newly acquired food source, never mind that it's your box of peaches. He doesn't have to work very hard for that food, and he likes it that way. He's bigger than you, meaner than you, and since he now considers you competition for his easy pickings, he's going to fight you for it. And chances are, he's going to do it lightning quick.
This type of bear was created by humans in our national parks where for years visitors would feed the bears or foolishly pose their children near them using food to bait the bears closer to the camera. It resulted in generations of bears that would tear apart coolers, tents, campers and cars in search of the easy food source they had come to rely on, many since birth, because their mothers taught them how to scavenge as cubs. The total lack of fear for all things human eventually led to people being mauled or killed and resulted in many bears being hunted down for relocation or disposed of. Feeding the bears in parks became illegal, and after those generations of bears died out, bear attacks in parks have become rare.
This type of bear can also be created by injury or old age and may result in a rogue bear or may cause a predator bear. A bear with failing eyesight, few or no teeth, one that has been wounded by a hunter or one with injuries sustained in another manner can be a mean, nasty, hungry bear. If it has difficulty finding food from its natural sources, it may out of desperation turn to human sources. You're back to the same element of surprise as mentioned above that can be so unpleasant, or you or your pets may be attacked just because you look like an easy food source and this poor bugger is hungry. He's just not thinking straight and that makes him a really dangerous animal. Unfortunately, there isn't usually a good end to such an animal. Relocation is not going to help a bear like this because it is probably going to starve to death or die of its injuries if that is what caused the problem to begin with. Game wardens or police must usually kill the bear before it can cause further harm to people or their pets.
The first step with a rogue bear is not creating one in the first place. Be cautious if one is sighted in your neighborhood especially in fall when there's a lot of fruit or vegetables ripening in the back yard. Keep your garbage cleaned up and sealed in cans and pull in your birdfeeders. If a bear is known to be in the area contact local authorities and discuss your options. If you have neighbours nearby and they are seeing the same bear or bears, wardens or police may have to come in and relocate or dispose of the animal. Unfortunately, in our area when we have a problem bear, warden manpower for the region is so limited, we usually have to take matters into our own hands. Those of us that hunt get bear tags. You generally have a pretty good description for a problem bear if it's broken or pounded on enough windows and patio doors as did one we had in the neighbourhood two years ago. Sometimes there just isn't any option and for the safety of children, tourists, hikers, livestock and pets, you have to shoot the animal.
Next article discusses the mysterious predator bear. And that folks ... is the one that scares the heck outta me!

19/09/2005 10:21 AM

Predator Bear

That's the one that gives me the heebie jeebies. It's also the most dangerous bear of all because it actively stalks or hunts humans, pets and livestock. Fortunately, it is also rare. Probably because man is swift to exact retribution for a bear that kills deliberately.
You have probably all heard of the bear at Laird hot springs, the couple killed while camping on a remote islet in Ontario and the couple attacked while hiking up north. In the latter attack, the man survived and reported that the bear had stalked the couple for some distance. Eyewitness accounts describe none other than a predator bear at Laird and forensic evidence in the case of the couple in Ontario points at an opportunistic bear that attacked and killed the two people before they even had a chance to set up camp, then kept them in the 'larder' for up to a week returning periodically to feed on them. They never found the bear.
No one knows what creates a predator bear and in some instances blame can be put on age, poor eyesight, few or no teeth, disease, gunshot wounds or injuries sustained otherwise. But more often than not, autopsies show the predator animal to be in excellent condition. So what causes a bear to go bad? Is it starvation, or just plain meanness? It is known that sows will teach their cubs predator behaviour and this started to become a major problem in our national parks for a few years until laws came in banning the feeding of wildlife and park wardens started monitoring problem bears more closely.
We have a rancher that has been in this area for a long, long time (no, I won't give you his name) that over the years, had killed up to fourteen grizzlies by 1988 because he was losing so many calves and some cows to one every spring. Although this would horrify most naturalists, we still enjoy quite a healthy population of grizzly in the region and the rancher was able to raise a family and make a living from ranching.
We also had our own incident years ago involving a person that retired out here back in the 30's. When he retired out here, he bought a ranch and was out on horseback feeding pellets to the weaker of his cattle one spring. Over a ridge he heard noises in the willows and checked, assuming it might be a trapped cow or calf. Instead, it was a grizzly sow on the remains of a moose, and when she charged, he tried to climb a tree. The grizzly pulled him out of the tree and they fought to a standstill. The grizzly eventually let off the attack, and he started backing up all the way across a lake to his cabin on the other side. He survived, but it was not a pretty sight to see the man in the coffee shop, even years later. He was missing part of his nose and an eye, his arm was shrunken and withered as well as the leg on that side of the body that had taken the brunt of the attack. Most interesting about this tough rancher is that he never lost his footing or went down as he wrestled with the bear. Would he have survived if he'd played dead as some scientists suggest? Probably not, in my humble opinion.
There is some argument among naturalists and scientists on the reality of a predator bear. But if you watch some of the film footage in documentaries or read some of the authoritive books on the subject, there doesn't seem to be any doubt that such a creature exists. Smith, a friend of mine, ran into one and I'll tell his story tomorrow.
What to do if you run into an animal that is actively stalking you? Obviously the bear's motive is different from that of a sow with cubs. She only wants the danger to her cubs to move away. While you may want to move away from a predator bear, you do not want to do it with your back to it. Looking as large as possible by waving your arms and yelling at it or beating a club against a tree may help. if it continues coming you will want to start backing up all the while making as much noise as possible. Try to get into a safe position and start looking at your arsenal. If you have bear spray, a knife, a pistol or a rifle, get it ready. If not, start looking for a strong stick or pole or anything that will serve as a weapon. In the case of this type of bear, it is my personal belief, and that of some scientists, that curling up and playing dead is the wrong thing to do. That's what the bear wants in the end anyway, so make it as hard as you can on him. You want to discourage him from continuing the attack, not make it easy for him.
While some advocate climbing a large tree to get away from a bear, keep in mind that black bears can climb far better than you
and grizzlies have been known to shake people out of very large trees or actually climb high enough to drag a person out of a tree as happened to Connie King as well as a couple of forestry fellows north of Prince George. If that is your only option, however, then try to take a weapon of some sort up with you. Tomorrow is Smith's story.
Until then....

20/09/2005 1:52 PM

Smith's Bear Story

This happened to a friend of mine about five or six years ago northwest of Prince George in British Columbia. Smith has been a woodsman, guide and outfitter all his life. He and his wife live in one of the most bear infested regions in western Canada so they're both accustomed to both black bears and grizzlies. His guiding area is a few hundred miles from his home so he goes into the area in summer to cut new trails, scout new areas and check on the movement of wildlife. In fall he takes his pack horses and assistant guides into the area and stays for several months with clients coming in to hunt for goat, caribou, deer, moose and bear. Smith is a great big bear of a man, tough and fearless but I still remember how his voice shook when he told me this story.
He had gone out to check on an area one day and took his rifle with him. He had been walking for some time when the hair started to go up on the back of his neck and he began to feel as though something was watching him. He continued on cautiously and quietly, listening carefully. Every once in a while he would hear the faint snap of a twig behind him and a dread feeling just got worse as he walked through the deep woods. He didn't dare start circling toward home because chances were very good that he would meet whatever was behind him trying to circle to get ahead of him. He finally came to a large clearing of natural meadow grass and walked into the middle of it where he stood listening. Again he heard the odd twig snap. That indicated that it was still behind him and hadn't circled around him yet. He sprinted to the other side of the meadow, put a large tree to his back, and waited. Finally, a huge brown bear stepped into view at the edge of the clearing, nose down on Smith's trail, then followed his tracks out into the meadow. There it stopped and looked up, straight at him.
Smith hoped there was a possibility that this bear was just curious and had never seen or smelled a human before. So he yelled at it, making himself as large as possible waving his arms and smacking the tree behind him, all actions that would normally cause a bear to run like hell the other way. The bear just kept coming.
My realistic, down to earth friend said those two small pig eyes just stared at him the whole time it moved toward him and the
whole animal just reeked of malevolence
. He brought up the rifle and fired in front of the bear, spraying dirt into its face, hoping the boom of the rifle surely would scare the bear. It stopped, looked at him, then charged. He had no choice but to fire as many shots as he could into the animal before it reached him. It nearly did before it died.
He butchered the bear because he wanted to know what would have caused an animal in such fine condition to act like this. He's had lots of experience with opening up animals over the years and said he could not find a single thing to indicate the animal was diseased or injured and that its stomach was full. But the stomach contents indicated the bear was a meat eater. It looked like it considered my friend to be lunch.
Everything about the bear indicated a classic predator bear. It was stalking its meal and had no fear of humans. It was unknown whether the animal was familiar with people or not and Smith was never able to reach a conclusion on that point.

21/09/2005 11:01 AM

The Truth of Bears

I referred to Smith's story in the last article and had I never had any experiences with bears, I would have had to taken his story with a grain of salt. But I know the man and he's no storyteller when it comes to something like this. And I've been there too.
In 1981 economic disaster struck us all. Jobs were limited and a lot of people were laid off in a world where the industry bubble had burst, much like the tech industry in 2001 where so many people that had invested in 'Internet' style businesses got caught with their pants down ... including me.
In the early eighties, the onslaught was caused by ridiculously high interest rates and I had been one of the ones caught up in the downsize wave, so a friend and I decided to go gold panning. The Cariboo was rich in gold at one time and many of the creeks and rivers, such as the Fraser and Quesnel still yield small nuggets and flour gold to a person with patience. We decided to go up to Quesnel Forks where two major rivers meet and do some gold panning. We did so for days in the freezing water of late fall and actually didn't do too badly for newbies to the gold panning game. Until I accidentally kicked our Cheez Whiz jar of gold into the water while adding more gold dust and lost it all to the current. Ok, so tempers were a little high for a while but it wasn't really enough to make a living on anyway, ok?
Based on my research and books, we decided to head up a creek called Cedar Creek because it had been an excellent gold bearing creek until the next bonanza on the next creek in the late 1800's. At that time, prospectors had a habit of leaving a perfectly good paying area for the possibility of 'the big one' up the road. Gossip and dreams were the mainstay in gold country in those days.
We found the creek and began to follow it upcountry in dense underbrush canopied by huge, dark cedar trees. The woods were dark because sunlight just couldn't pierce the cedar branches overhead and the ground was soft from rotting vegetation in an almost rainforest type of ecosystem.
Not long after starting out I got the heebie jeebies. I have good instincts in the woods. I have highly honed instincts when I'm only carrying a shovel and gold pan and my partner ahead of me is the only one with a rifle. We had my golden lab/husky cross with us. She was a smart dog and had good instincts too. I figured that out when I had difficulty walking because she was either between my legs or bumping off my knees because she was walking so close beside me and the fur was standing straight up on her neck and shoulders. So I paid attention to sound because I have excellent hearing. Yep, sure enough, on the ridge above us I was hearing the odd faint snap of a twig and I'm the first to admit...I got rattled. That bad feeling just wasn't going away, it was getting worse.
I had mentioned to my gold panning partner several times my feeling on the situation and didn't get anywhere. Finally, the raised hair-on-the-neck feeling got so bad I finally had to tell my partner that it was time to turn back because this just wasn't a good place to be. Being a city yahoo, he wasn't buying it and he had that city oblivion thing happening along with the " I'm cool, and afraid of nothing" testosterone stuff going on. I finally gave him an ultimatum. "You carry the shovel and I carry the rifle or me and the dog are turning around!" Since he wasn't about to give up the rifle, he reluctantly gave in and we backtracked.
We got into the truck and drove by road paralleling the creek until we got to where another road turned off down to the creek, about where we had wanted to get by walking. We pulled down as close as we could but the road was pretty wet from recent rains and got out to walk to the creek. Only a few steps from the truck I looked down and told my gold panning partner to get back to the truck. He didn't understand what I was saying and started to continue down the road. "Get back in the truck now!" I yelled. He looked down and finally saw what I had.
When they talk about dinner plate sized grizzly tracks ... it's really true. Except that in this case, the mud was oozing back into these tracks - they were so fresh. It became very obvious, even to my city-bred friend, that this bear had in fact been above us on the ridge the entire time and now that he hit the same road we would have to go down to the creek, he would have intercepted us. Was it just an accident that he was going the same direction? Maybe. Or had he been stalking us? Both me and the dog had been feeling the same way for at least 45 minutes. That's a long time for an animal to 'just happen' to be in the same part of the country for the same amount of time. But had we met whether by accident or design, the outcome either way would not have been pretty. He would have run away, or died, or we would have been mauled. That simple. It taught me an important lesson. I would never again go into the woods, especially bear country, with someone less experienced than me in woodscraft that won't listen. I haven't broken that rule to this day.
I've started a new week, so if you would like catch up on articles from last week you'll find it here at September2

The purpose of this web site is to draw attention to a remote area of west central British Columbia. It is a beautiful area that relies heavily on tourism. The search engines don't know much about the West Chilcotin, Anahim Lake, Nimpo Lake or any of the other small communities in the region and I hope to change that! Even as large as this site will eventually be, there just isn't enough room or time in the day to fully describe this incredible country but I am going to try scraping away at the tip of the iceberg, so join me!

Follow the links, and see what the West Chilcotin is really like!
Single Bella Coola Grizzly - photo courtesy of Ken Stranaghan
Three grizzly bears.
A black bear in a tree.
A black bear along the highway with cub.
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